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The Purse-Seine Analysis

Author: poem of Robinson Jeffers Type: poem Views: 40

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Our sardine fishermen work at night in the dark

       of the moon; daylight or moonlight

They could not tell where to spread the net,

        unable to see the phosphorescence of the

        shoals of fish.

They work northward from Monterey, coasting

        Santa Cruz; off New Year's Point or off

        Pigeon Point

The look-out man will see some lakes of milk-color

        light on the sea's night-purple; he points,

        and the helmsman

Turns the dark prow, the motorboat circles the

        gleaming shoal and drifts out her seine-net.

        They close the circle

And purse the bottom of the net, then with great

        labor haul it in.

                                      I cannot tell you

How beautiful the scene is, and a little terrible,

        then, when the crowded fish

Know they are caught, and wildly beat from one wall

        to the other of their closing destiny the


Water to a pool of flame, each beautiful slender body

        sheeted with flame, like a live rocket

A comet's tail wake of clear yellow flame; while outside

        the narrowing

Floats and cordage of the net great sea-lions come up

        to watch, sighing in the dark; the vast walls

        of night

Stand erect to the stars.

                                Lately I was looking from a night mountain-top

On a wide city, the colored splendor, galaxies of light:

        how could I help but recall the seine-net

Gathering the luminous fish? I cannot tell you how

        beautiful the city appeared, and a little terrible.

I thought, We have geared the machines and locked all together

        into inter-dependence; we have built the great cities; now

There is no escape. We have gathered vast populations incapable

        of free survival, insulated

From the strong earth, each person in himself helpless, on all

        dependent. The circle is closed, and the net

Is being hauled in. They hardly feel the cords drawing, yet

        they shine already. The inevitable mass-disasters

Will not come in our time nor in our children's, but we

        and our children

Must watch the net draw narrower, government take all

        powers--or revolution, and the new government

Take more than all, add to kept bodies kept souls--or anarchy,

        the mass-disasters.

                                       These things are Progress;

Do you marvel our verse is troubled or frowning, while it keeps

        its reason? Or it lets go, lets the mood flow

In the manner of the recent young men into mere hysteria,

        splintered gleams, crackled laughter. But they are

        quite wrong.

There is no reason for amazement: surely one always knew

        that cultures decay, and life's end is death.


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